Ohio is rich with American history. It was the first free state formed from the Northwest Territory and home to the first private historically black college or university (HBCU), Wilberforce University. It’s also the birthplace of presidents, astronauts, inventors, and writers, all of whom helped define American excellence. Many of these Ohio heroes were African Americans who fought tirelessly for equity and justice.
As we celebrate Black History Month in Ohio, there are many places around our state where you can experience the stories of these amazing people. From historic homes to museums, there’s lots to see not just in February, but throughout the year. Often these museums are operated by volunteers, so you’ll want to call before you visit.
Let’s start with the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce. NAAMCC, which is part of the Ohio History Connection’s historic site system, is the home of one of the nation’s largest African American archives and collections. Items include Alex Haley’s final draft of Roots, Alphonso Woodall’s Carnegie Hero Medal, and an unparalleled collection of works from the Black Arts Movement. The museum also offers arts and educational programming monthly.
The Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument is less than two miles from NAAMCC, and it’s a National Park Service site. Colonel Charles Young was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to become a national park superintendent, a military attaché, and a colonel, making him the highest-ranking Black officer in the U.S. Army until his death in 1922. His legacy lives on today at this national monument..
The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center in Dayton was dubbed the “Land of Funk,” for a reason. This new museum preserves the legend of funk music in the Gem City through a collection of memorabilia and interactive activities.
Learn about the life of internationally-acclaimed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at his house in Dayton. Dunbar gained worldwide fame for his poetry, stories and plays in the early 20th century and was a voice for equality. In 1936, the Ohio General Assembly dedicated the house as the very first state memorial honoring African-American history.
Explore Ohio’s connection to the Underground Railroad at the newly-restored John Rankin House in Ripley. The Rev. John Rankin was an ardent abolitionist who assisted the enslaved on their paths to freedom. At this National Historic Landmark, you can step inside one of the best-documented and most active Underground Railroad “stations” in Ohio. This Ohio History Connection site is open from April until October.
The John Parker House is the former home of African-American abolitionist John Parker. He escaped slavery to become a successful inventor and businessman in Ripley before the Civil War. Parker is credited with assisting hundreds of enslaved people to freedom through this Front Street home.
The John Mercer Langston Historic House– is a National Historic Landmark in Oberlin. It was home to John Mercer Langston, an attorney, abolitionist, diplomat, US Congressman and college president. As the town clerk in Oberlin, Langston was one of the first African-Americans elected to public office in the United States.
Visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati and discover the place where this famous author spent her formative years. Stowe was an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate and wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the popular 19th century novel credited with laying the groundwork for the Civil War.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati immerses visitors into the stories of the Underground Railroad. The mission of the museum is to reveal stories of heroes from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring us to fight for human rights today.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Performing and Cultural Arts Complex– in Columbus connects the community through the arts. The Elijah Pierce Gallery presents a wide range of historical and contemporary exhibitions that include painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, and decorative arts. The main gallery is named in honor of the late Elijah Pierce, America’s foremost wood carver of 20th century folk art. They also offer an award-winning youth arts program and was named “Best Community Art Center” by Columbus Parent Magazine.
This is just a small sampling of the many Black historic and cultural institutions within a few hours of where you live. There are African-American art museums, galleries, and community centers on college and university campuses as well. We invite you explore Ohio to learn more about the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans—known and unknown—around our beautiful state.
For more history, Find It Here at Ohio.org.
Jerolyn Barbee, Assistant Director, National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center
Hadley Drodge, Assistant Curator, National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center